Facebook helps woman find sisters after 44 years

Even critics of Facebook will find it hard not to 'Like' this story. A French pensioner, fearing cancer would end her life prematurely, managed to achieve her dream of tracking down her two long-lost sisters, thanks to the social media site.

Facebook helps woman find sisters after 44 years
Reunited: From left to right Patrick Vanderveken, Liliane, Muriel and Dorothée. Photo: Dorothée Vanderveken

Muriel Vanderveken, 66, from the town of Douai in northern France was separated from her siblings as a young woman, when her parents separated and she was sent off to live in a convent.

“I was sent off to live with nuns in Lille and my sisters stayed at home to live with my mum. I wished I had stayed with them,” Vanderveken told RTL radio this week.

Over the years she had a burning desire to be reunited with her family, but her attempts proved fruitless.

A recent diagnosis of cancer only increased her longstanding anxiety that she might never again see her sisters Liliane and Dorothée, nor her brother Roger.

“The last time I saw Dorothée she was five and I had only seen Liliane once when she was aged one. I just wanted to find them before I died. I just had to do it,” she told Le Voix du Nord regional newspaper.

After trying the usual channels without success, Vanderveken decided to buy herself her first computer.

“A neighbour told me that I might be able to find them on Facebook. I had never heard of it. I bought the computer and started learning about it all by myself,” she said.

But her internet search was hit by complications.

“There are a heck of a lot of Vandervekens,” she said. But when she came across one called Dorothée, the name of one of her sisters, she knew her quest was nearly over.

“I just looked at her place of birth and thought ‘it must be her’,” she said.

After making initial contact through the social network, the sisters were eventually reunited during an emotional family dinner earlier this month along with brother Patrick and another sister Marie-Fance, whom she had managed to keep in contact with.

“Facebook worked better than the services at the Town Hall,” Muriel Vanderveken told The Local on Wednesday. “Because people are able to put their places of birth on their pages that's how I was able to find Dorothy.

“I had some problems with Facebook but with the help of some friends I was able to work it out."

Muriel was one of 13 siblings in total. She is still searching for another younger brother Roger, but sadly her other brothers and sisters have died. 

“It’s fantastic to be reunited, but I still need to find Roger,” she added. 

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Facebook agrees with France to pay €106 million in back taxes

US social media giant Facebook on Monday said it had agreed with the French government to pay €106 million in back taxes for its French operations over a 10-year period from 2009, and to pay 50 percent more tax in the current year.

Facebook agrees with France to pay €106 million in back taxes
Many of the US digital giants have their EU headquarters in low-tax-regime countries. Photo: AFP

“We take our tax obligations seriously, pay the taxes we owe in all the markets in which we operate and work closely with tax administrations around the world to ensure compliance with all applicable tax laws and resolve any disputes,” a Facebook France spokesperson said in a statement.

The statement said that since 2018, Facebook changed its sales structure so that “income from advertisers supported by our teams in France is registered in this country”.

“This year we are paying €8.46 million in income tax, an increase of almost 50 percent compared to last year,” it said. 

“We have also entered into an agreement with the tax authorities covering the years 2009-2018, under which we will make a payment of €106 million.”

The payment by American digital giants of tax on revenues in the country in which they are accrued has been the subject of a longstanding conflict between France and the United States. 

Big EU countries say the so-called GAFA – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon – are unfairly exploiting tax rules that let them declare profits in low-tax havens, depriving governments of a fair share of their fiscal payments.

Many of the US digital giants have their EU headquarters in low-tax-regime countries. 

The dispute between France and the United States on the digital giants' tax has escalated to the extent that the United States in July unveiled heavy import duties on France.

The office of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer found France's digital services tax was discriminatory and “unfairly targets US digital technology companies,” and said it would impose punitive duties of 25 percent on $1.3 billion worth of French products.

But it will hold off on collecting the fees to allow time for the dispute to be resolved.

READ ALSO: Trump's US wine tariffs 'threaten 100,000 jobs in French countryside'


In the meantime, France, Britain, Spain, Italy and others have imposed taxes on the largest digital companies.

US officials have slammed these moves as discriminating against American firms, and say any new levies should come only as part of a broader overhaul of international tax rules.

In January, 137 countries agreed to negotiate a deal on how to tax tech multinationals by the end of 2020, under the auspices of the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.